Friday, August 01, 2008

What Was That About Absolute Power Again?

Yesterday I talked about a shifting of power in the publishing industry. I had two different writers email me offline to contest what they saw as my saying the power was moving from the publishing houses to the bookstores.

I had to grin. It's pretty embarrassing for a writer to realize that her message was less than clear.

What I was *trying* to say was that I see the balance of power shifting away from the traditional print publisher. Frankly, I think there will be numerous beneficiaries of this shift: authors, bookstores and other distributors of content.

I've been writing for more than a year about what I see as a blurring of traditional roles in publishing. The following is is from my post of April 28, 2007 here:
So how DOES a publishing house justify its existence in a digitized world?

The answer could be in the marketing and distribution chain. While anyone may be able to produce an e-book, the failure of most self-published books is evidence that merely having a book is not enough . . . What I suspect is going to happen is that the lines between publisher, distributor, bookstore and author are going to start blurring. Unusual contracts among the different parties are likely to emerge.
I feel even more certain today that this will be the case than I did fifteen months ago. Publishers are now trying to sell their books directly to readers via websites. More and more authors are seeking to self-publish. And online distributors like Amazon are seeking new roles.

This morning's news included a report from Publishers Weekly that Amazon has agreed to buy AbeBooks, the online website for used books:
The purchase, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter, will strengthen Amazon's already dominate position in the used book field. Terms weren't disclosed.
Bottom line: there are new ways to publish books, there are new ways to sell books, but it still takes a writer to write a book.

Writers are the only part of the equation that remains fixed.

Yesterday when I started this subject, I promised to talk about the dark horses in the race. I've mentioned one of them already: Amazon.

As I've said in multiple posts before, Amazon.com has positioned itself to own a piece of all parts of the chain leading to the consumer.

Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Retailer => Consumer

There is no telling how far Amazon will go. Frankly, I think some of it will depend on whether we have a Republican administration or a Democratic administration come November. Democrats are so much more willing to yell "Antitrust" in a crowded theatre.

The other dark horses are also Internet giants. I've talked about Google again and again. As they attempt to copy all the books in the world, they've quietly ensured no one will follow in their footsteps. Google requires all libraries that join the Google Book Search project sign an agreement promising not to make their books available for copying to other search engines.

On the surface, Google is just trying to guarantee their search engine will retain its hegemony in the market. However, I can't help but remember Lord Acton's famous pronouncement:
If there is any presumption, it is . . . against the holders of power . . . Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
What I can't decide is whether what's true for men is also true for companies. Are great companies almost always bad companies? Amazon has already been a deep disappointment to me. Now I'm wondering what will happen to Google's already-tarnished motto: "Do no evil."

Of the five major Internet companies: Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, the other one I am most interested in following is eBay. To find out why, read my blog from ten months ago here.

Since I seem to have devolved into cliches, I'll leave you with one more: Time will tell. {grin}